Top 10 picks for SXSW 2020 — A designer’s digest to impactful learning

Top 10 picks for SXSW 2020 — A designer’s digest to impactful learning

SXSW ‘20 is just around the corner! It’s the place to be if you are into tech, design and art or if you are looking for inspiration. Looking at the official program can create some anxiety however, because there is so much to see, to do and to hear. That’s why we have created this top 10 list of things to check out. Hopefully this will provide you with a little bit of direction when you’re in Austin.

Our 10 picks for SXSW 2020

Last year, INFO went to SXSW to host workshops and discuss strategies for co-creating inclusive cities together with Philips Design and UNStudio. Sharing our insights was a great and stimulating learning experience that entailed sparring with a wide variety of like-minded people, from designers to government officials. Our innovation manager, Iskander Smit, wrote a recap of his highlights from SXSW ‘19.

Besides an openness to learning and willingness to wait in famously long lines, a sharp focus doesn’t hurt. And while we do have a design-driven focus, these recommendations should be viewed through a specific lens. In particular, through the role and ownership of design in the current market. Design is increasingly gaining a strategic influence and a mandate to have its approaches and solutions impact everything, from individual user experiences to industries and ecosystems.

Designers are well-versed in researching and quickly obtaining knowledge about new fields, but the extended influence design has increases the complexity of what we need to learn in order to creatively deliver value. These sessions at SXSW will get you started.


See you at SXSW 2020!


1. Inclusive Design: A New Frontier in the Age of AI

Last year’s great talk by Stephen Anderson, The Future of Design: Computation & Complexity, provided a lot of insight into the complexity that designers have to deal with. With designers understanding more of the opportunities of new technologies, it’s our job to frame and translate that into something valuable. Inclusivity was already a big theme last year, and it continues to be the task of designers to ensure meaningful solutions for everyone.

▶ Link to this session


2. Reinventing Business Models in the Digital Age

As seen in Doblin’s excellent innovation overview of the current markets, 10 Types of Innovation, companies are pouring a lot of money into product innovation. But when looking at the market and the types of innovation, the ROI of business model innovation yields much higher success than solely focusing on the product. Today, designers are allowed a seat at the table in other areas than just products. But to impact business innovation, it’s important that we engage and establish a shared language with the people currently affecting it. Designers often tout a ‘holistic approach’ as the holy grail. And introducing new features or experiences is fine, but there is much to be gained in understanding how to elevate our approach to incorporate areas such as business model innovation.

▶ Link to this session


3. Sustainable Healthcare: Transforming an Industry

For designers in tech, there’s still a lot to be learned from fields such as medicine and architecture. While designers do assess impact and risk in their work, the above-mentioned fields have an entirely different relationship to the impact their work has on people’s lives. This means that the need for maintaining well-being and providing safety are better integrated into their practices. This talk will deal with new concepts that incorporate sustainability – a pressing matter for the entire planet. Seeing how sustainability can be integrated with a focus on human well-being and health, can give designers a lot of inspiration on how to put similar matters into their personal context.

▶ Link to this session

Sustainable Healthcare SXSW


4. Designing for Inclusion in Health Innovation

Designers don’t create products solely for the sake of technical innovation but seek to innovate by coming up with creative ideas and solutions for the problems their customers and users experience. Especially in the health and medical sector, it’s really important to thoroughly understand the potential users. It’s challenging to understand a diverse user group and to conduct research that helps to create inclusive products that are meaningful for people’s everyday rhythm. This panel session with a diverse group of speakers will inspire you through a new approach to advancing inclusivity in healthcare but might be an inspiration for other fields as well.

▶ Link to this session


5. Power of Design Leadership to Transform Business

As designers, we see that the significance of our role is changing. Our job description doesn’t only contain tasks like visual designing, wireframing, or user testing anymore. We help our clients to innovate their businesses by using design thinking principles and initiating a new way of thinking. We help to get more insight into users, potential friction, and possible solutions that help innovation. This sounds exciting, but what does this shift mean for our role exactly? During this panel discussion, the future role of designers will be discussed and the speakers will shine a light on how you can gain support for this new model in an organization. Let’s see what the power of design will bring!

▶ Link to this session


6. Crafting Inclusive Mobility

In the mobility sector, everyone is talking about MaaS: “How can we optimize a journey by combining different mobility services during your A-to-B traveling?” What if we wouldn’t just focus on efficiency, but would rather use our designer toolkit and look at the experience the user has while being on this journey instead? Mobility experts from Lyft, Teague, and other companies, will explore together how they are using design principles to tackle mobility challenges. This talk will inspire you to think about different challenging scenarios that users might experience while taking part in the MaaS system and how designers can help to solve this or potentially gain more users.

▶ Link to this session


7. Design For Individuals Not ‘People’ Using Mindsets

here’s a renewed interest in how services should be using personalization to give users what they want: an experience that feels perfect for them. After reading many online debates around the usage of personas, it was interesting to see the following talk popping up in the SXSW schedule, where they introduce a new method to design for individuals by using the concept of “Mindsets”. A nice way to explore new approaches to possibly improve our design way of working.

▶ Link to this session


8. Keeping Healthcare Human in the Digital Age

With tech innovations in healthcare, where manual tasks and services are being automated, you see that the human factor is often less present. This is because automated processes will prevent the patient from experiencing “human errors”, right? And yet, the human factor – trust, respect, empathy, and collaboration – is the thing that people value most in services. During this talk, you will hear from leaders of the patient-experience movement from Hanger Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Mayo Clinic, and learn how we can have the best of both worlds by extending empathy into the digital age. Which we, as designers, can only encourage as we stand to learn a lot from this innovative combination.

▶ Link to this session


9. The Google Conversation Design Workshop

After mostly listening to the many keynote sessions, it might be nice to get your hands dirty at one of the SXSW workshops. We would recommend you go to ‘The Google Conversation Design Workshop’. As you have probably read in the 2020 predictions on Medium, ‘Conversational UI’ is a popular trend. During this 3-hour workshop, led by three conversational design experts from Google, you will get some insights into the process of designing conversations and natural experiences. You will have the chance to design and prototype a brand persona and a conversational experience. As a designer, getting to see the variety of possible interactions and challenge yourself to design for different experiences can be a great inspiration.

▶ Link to this session

SXSW Workshop 2020

And now for something completely different..


10. Nardwuars Video Vault

So far, we’ve been super serious and business-y, but it wouldn’t really be a design recommendation piece for Austin without some weirdness thrown in there. So here you go!

Austin’s slogan is Keep Austin Weird and nobody epitomizes this slogan better than musical journalist Nardwuar the Human Serviette. From Nirvana to Billie Eilish to hip-hop legends like Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dog, and Jay-Z, Nardwuar has amazed and blown the minds of countless stars for 30 years with his vast research, knowledge, and knack for digging up memorabilia (he would probably make a great user researcher). He’s achieved cult status through his interviews on YouTube and Nardwuards Video Vault offers a great opportunity to meet and experience this quirky character in person.

A little preview video

Nardwuar SXSW

Designers x SXSW

The designers at our agency play a key role in framing initial business visions, identifying opportunities, shaping services, and implementing solutions. Our strategic, service and product designers all have particular ownerships within this cycle, but a place like SXSW poses a great opportunity to put our work into context and learn from the innovations and industries that impact the world today.

See you in Austin!

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